Colorado’s unique geography means that the state experiences a wide-variety of natural hazards. The state offers diverse landscapes including plains, mountains, mesas, and deserts, and with these many landscapes come a myriad of natural hazards and vulnerabilities. The 2013 Colorado Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan identifies 16 hazards that routinely threaten communities and cause damage, with droughts, wildfires, floods, and winter storms being the most impactful and widespread. 

Natural Hazard Risks, as Perceived by Residents of Colorado

The Colorado Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan:
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Figure 3-1 Perceived Risks per Region-01 - INSERTED 5-18-15.png


Every community faces vulnerabilities, be they natural or man-made. A community or individual can be considered vulnerable when they are exposed to a hazard (an event or long-term condition) and are likely to have negative impacts from this exposure. Communities that take action towards becoming more resilient reduce their vulnerability to adverse impacts from disasters and other events and can greatly improve their ability to bounce back afterward.


Vulnerabilities are often described in terms of shocks and stresses. Shocks are direct vulnerabilities; they are intense, acute events that can disrupt communities. They include flash floods, wildfires, widespread loss of electrical power, dam failures, public health crises, and terrorist attacks. Shocks can lead to significant damage to infrastructure, as well as injuries and deaths. Communities use hazard mitigation as a means to reducing vulnerability by reducing exposure to shocks.

Activities Enhancing Our Understanding of Risk
Accurate, up-to-date information is critical for having a clear picture of the true risks a community faces. Missing or incomplete data can hamper the ability of public officials, emergency managers, the business community, and at-risk populations to make well-informed decisions for community and economic development. Communities can use this information to reduce their exposure to natural events that threaten public safety, health, and welfare.

As the U.S. Geological Survey notes, having a clear understanding of the risk you face provides a number of benefits, including:

  • Providing a baseline knowledge of threats to a community;
  • Understanding societal impacts of natural events, and exploring opportunities for reducing risk exposure; and
  • Identifying opportunities for improving hazard mitigation plans, land use plans, adaptation strategies, and preparedness plans.

  • A number of efforts are currently underway here in Colorado to enhance our understanding of the natural risks communities face. Read more about these efforts in the Plan Integration section of the Resource Center.


    In contrast to shocks, stresses are underlying long-term economic, social, and environmental conditions that can negatively impact a community’s environmental, social, and economic health; they are indirect vulnerabilities. Stresses can also limit a community’s ability to address and recover from a shock. Stresses can include aging infrastructure, an economic downturn, long-term high rates of unemployment, and a lack of affordable housing. Communities use resiliency planning as a way to reduce their indirect vulnerability by addressing and improving the underlying conditions that expose them to hazards and developing a capacity to adapt to changing conditions.

    Stresses have the potential to intensify the impacts of shocks. For example, aging, weakened infrastructure may not be able to withstand a major flood event, which can impact emergency services, access to goods and jobs, etc. Multiple shocks can also lead to new stresses, for example, if multiple floods cause significant damage to a community’s commercial sector, it could lead to higher rates of unemployment.


    Example of Interrelationship of Shocks and Stresses

    Shocks and stresses are often interrelated.  In this example, drought can exacerbate extreme conditions (dry vegetation, bare slopes) that leads to more damage should heavy rains fall.  

    Shocks and stresses are often interrelated.  In this example, drought can exacerbate extreme conditions (dry vegetation, bare slopes) that leads to more damage should heavy rains fall.